On Saturday afternoon, the Brandeis community bestowed the highest form of university recognition upon two alums: social justice activist Roy DeBerry ’70, MA ’78, PhD ’79, and founding editor in chief of Lilith magazine Susan Weidman Schneider ’65. 

Interim President Lisa Lynch presented the Alumni Achievement Award to both DeBerry and Schneider for their distinguished contributions to their professions and chosen fields of endeavors.

Previous winners of the award include Roderick Mackinnon ’78, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist; Marta Kauffman ’78 and David Krane ’79, co-creators of “Friends”; Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and Robert Zimmer ’68, president of the University of Chicago. 

The Alumni Achievement Awards were presented on Oct. 24th before a full crowd of students, family, faculty and alumni in the Faculty Club.

This week, justFeatures sat down with DeBerry and Schneider before the awards ceremony to learn about their experiences at Brandeis and about their notable careers that followed.  

Reflecting on her first week at Brandeis, Susan Weidman Schneider ’65 recalled that she felt as if she had entered “a whole new world.”  

Schneider returned to Brandeis this Saturday to accept the Alumni Achievement Award alongside Roy DeBerry ’70, MA ’78, PhD ’79. 

“I really am deeply honored,” Schneider said in an interview with the Justice. “Brandeis has meant a lot to me, and over the years, [it] has been a place that has consistently marked my own identity and growth.” 

Coming to Brandeis from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Schneider studied English and American Literature. Schneider remembers her academic experience as incredibly engaging and interesting, crediting the enthusiasm of her professors in helping her learn — yet Schneider also learned from the women around her. 

“I came to Brandeis in an era when the Ivy League Schools were closed to women, so the cohort of women with whom I was at Brandeis ... were a very interesting bunch, in part because if they wanted to go to a school that wasn’t exclusively female there weren’t a lot of wonderful liberal arts college options. But Brandeis was one of them,” Schneider said. 

There were also female professors working at Brandeis during this time, and despite being a minority, these women had a significant impact on her education, according to Schneider. One in particular, a biology professor, brought donuts for the entire class in a baby carriage before an exam. It was not only her passion for teaching but also her caring attitude that resonated with Schneider. 

“There she was, nurturing the students, teaching the students, pregnant herself and doing it all with tremendous verve and enthusiasm,” Schneider recalled.

When asked what advice she would give to her first-year self, Schneider responded, “Do more, go to everything. Don’t spend so much time sitting and talking and processing, but go to that film or go to that lecture, and make sure you appreciate the smorgasbord [of resources available].”

After graduating from Brandeis, Schneider spent some time in Israel, where she began to think more about the implications and choices regarding Jewish culture in the lives of women. She began to write about these observations, and in 1976 she founded Lilith magazine with a group of like-minded women. The magazine, of which she is editor in chief, asserts itself to be “Independent, Jewish and Frankly Feminist.”  

With articles on topics ranging from marriage and childcare to female rabbis and equal pay, Lilith magazine explores the intersection of Jewish culture and female life. The magazine currently produces four print issues each year and consistently maintains and updates articles on its website.

“Feminism gets decided every day in our relationships,” Schneider said. Lilith explores these choices in Jewish women’s lives. 

“Our authors and our writers and our readers want to know the backstory [behind these choices]. They want to go deeper,” Schneider explained. For example, Schneider explains how the magazine examines the idea of marriage and the choice of a woman not to marry. “There’s no tradition of nuns or celibacy in Jewish religious life. What kind of pressures does that put on women?” Schneider asked.

During her time at Brandeis, Schneider said that the word “feminism” wasn’t being used. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the term emerged as a product of women’s efforts in other social change movements. It was then that Schneider first became aware of feminism.

“There was a burgeoning consciousness that you could look at the world through a gender lens. Things that I think many of us had perceived — but did not have names for — was a way of seeing unfairness within the framework of gender ... Seeing that there were, situationally, circumstances that could be righted. Wrongs that could be righted,” Schneider said. 

 As a nonprofit organization, Lilith has “the luxury of making editorial decisions that are not so much based on the bottom line but on getting ideas out there,” she explained. The magazine has a policy of open submissions, and Schneider credits this as well as the collaborative atmosphere at the Lilith office in the magazine’s success.

This year, Brandeis University’s Archives and Special Collections acquired the Lilith archives, which include a plethora of background information and drafts from Lilith articles.  Schneider is currently working on filming brief explanations of all of the archive’s content with the goal of bringing the information to life. 

“The hope is that they will become, as Sarah Shoemaker [Brandeis special collections] says, the keystone of a collection of feminist papers here,” Schneider said. 

In addition to her work at Lilith, Schneider has published two books and co-authored a third. In her first book, “Jewish and Female: Choices and Changes in Our Lives Today” (1984), Schneider said she sought to provide a “comprehensive look at Jewish women’s lives through a feminist lens” at a time when that topic wasn’t really being discussed anywhere else besides Lilith. 

Her second book, “Intermarriage: The Challenge of Living with Differences between Christians and Jews” (1989), explores cross-cultural relationships within the Jewish faith. The information in the book is written from the intersection of “anecdotal material … and demographic and sociological data starting to emerge [on the subject]” Schneider said. 

Despite the changing cultural landscape both in feminism and Judaism, Schneider said, “the intersection of identities is something Lilith has always, always covered and written about. It turns out to be, of course, very much on people’s minds now. We are pulled in multiple directions, all of us. There are feelings one has and actions one takes … that may play out quite differently a decade later. We’re always interested in developmental issues like that. And I think that we will continue to be.”